There can’t be many wine cellars or personal collections in which white wines are more plentiful than reds — although there may be the odd exception to this rule in Germany, whose white wines outnumber reds and have a great track record for ageability.
Riesling, the signature grape of Germany, makes wines that are virtually immortal, in my experience. Not only do opened bottles of Riesling last weeks if kept reasonably cool, but the wines continue to improve in bottle for decades. At present, I am happily drinking examples from the 1980s and 1990s.
They tend to taste drier with time, so that a Spätlese, for example, whose natural grape sugar may have been pretty obvious when the wine was young, can be quite dry enough to serve as an aperitif after a decade or two in bottle. And the nuances of flavour, the crystalline expressions of the vineyard responsible for the wine, should be all the greater. A lower-alcohol alternative to a sparkling wine perhaps?
Even a mass-market Riesling, wherever it’s grown (and there are particularly fine examples not just from Germany but also Alsace, Australia and Austria), will last much longer in bottle than wines made from other grapes. Whereas many supermarket whites should be drunk almost immediately, I would have no qualms about keeping a supermarket Riesling for a year or more.
Like rosé, Sauvignon Blanc is an obvious candidate to drink young. Certainly, most inexpensive examples are best enjoyed before their aroma and fruit — their chief attributes — start to fade. Yet some examples, especially those aged in oak and some of the more sophisticated, terroir-driven Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés, are deliberately designed for a longer life.
Wines based on Chenin Blanc grapes, mainly from the Loire or South Africa, don’t seem to age very quickly. Ditto Jurançon from south-west France based on Petit Manseng grapes.
This may be because, like Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Petit Manseng are relatively high in acidity. (So is Sauvignon Blanc but it’s the precious Sauvignon aroma that can be so evanescent.) I tasted an inexpensive 2019 Chenin Blanc in a can the other day (by The Copper Crew) that was still fresh as a daisy at nearly two years old. As was the 2017 Romanian Feteasca Regala that Tanners is selling for just £7.50 a bottle. It was screw-capped, which almost certainly helps by keeping out the oxygen that ages wine.
The one sort of white wine that absolutely deserves to be cellared is sweet wine whose sugar has been concentrated by the famous Botrytis cinerea fungus, sometimes called noble rot, which attacks ripe grapes and shrivels them, covering them with mould and working magic within the fruit. A really…
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